$10.9B forecast to rebuild aging water and sewer system

County’s urgent water/sewer needs are explained by deputy director Douglas Yoder.

Replacing the county’s long-neglected water and sewer system may result in a bonding program costing upwards of $10.9 billion.

Miami-Dade’s approximate 14,000 miles of water/sewer lines are seriously in need of repair and replacement, having failed to keep up with the county’s growth since the countywide network was established in 1972, warned Douglas Yoder, Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department deputy director.

One example given by Yoder emphasized “pay me now or pay me later” economics to a West Kendall audience during a meeting on Oct. 24.

“A 48-inch main burst in Hialeah about two years ago required $2.5 million to repair the damage and restore service. Had it been detected, the repair would have cost about $65,000.”

That illustration paralleled a water main break on Miller Road that “nearly swallowed a school bus just within the past year,” he added.

“Water mains of pre-stressed concrete are wire wrapped for strength. If a wire gives out through aging, the resulting pressure can cause a break at any location,” Yoder continued, explaining that despite a recent detection program now used, the county still is faced with two seriously aged pipeline systems.

“They include 7,500 miles of water main varying from one-inch to 120-inch (10 feet) in diameter as well as 6,500 miles of aging sewage lines, either of which can burst open at any time.

“Initially, we have estimated a need for $300 million in bonded funds by spring of 2013 to begin making urgently needed repairs to the system, including priority projects at county waste treatment plants,” Yoder said.

That figure represents only part of an overall $3.5 billion to replace older water lines and $7.4 billion for the sewer system, a total $10.9 billion.

Those figures include funding required to abandon ocean outfalls for treating wastewater, an EPA-mandated requirement, as well as provide additional capacity for growth, he said.

Aging water mains with increasing leaks result from the need to maintain water pressure pumps at 60-65 pounds per square inch to serve the system, including substandard installations in Kendall and western areas during the 1960s.

Passage of the Federal Clean Water Act led to set standards and requirements for sewer systems and substantial funding was made available, Yoder explained.

When the county took over the City of Miami water and sewer infrastructure, it combined that system with other municipal utility networks, as well as private systems such as those installed in large-scale housing developments.

“All of these lines were built independently of one another, including those installed by development, some of which used cast-iron pipes with sizes as small as two inches that we wouldn’t even consider appropriate today,” Yoder said.

For about a 10-year period, the county continued to upgrade its sewer system by constructing two new sewer plants, including a North plant near FIU’s North Campus and the South plant at Black Point, in addition to the former city plant on Virginia Key.

In addition, “locomotive-sized” generators to maintain operations in power emergencies were installed at all three sewer facilities and at the two large county water treatment plants in Hialeah and just west of SW 87th Avenue in Kendall, he noted.

Despite such improvements, Yoder estimated that 50-plus years of aging utility lines may need a programmed raise of 6 percent annually in water bills during the next five years, even though per capita water consumption has dropped over the past five years.

“Actually, we’re using about the same amount of water now that we were 20 years ago but we still have about 600,000 more people to serve in the county system,” he said.

“While consumption of water is high, we have been allocated all of the water available to us from the Biscayne Aquifer, so anything beyond that must come from conservation or other water sources

Billing for a typical Miami-Dade residence at $40 per 6,500 gallons compares favorably to Broward’s average $50-65 and significantly lower than Tampa’s $100 average “but that may have to change in the future to help offset funding for neglected repairs,” Yoder cautioned.

“Based on current projections, we have enough water to meet our needs through 2030 so our focus now is to restore and upgrade the system we have,” he concluded.

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